Positive Cynicism – Why sexist reviews are worthless

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

This weekend, Game of Thrones premiered on HBO. I don’t know yet how well it did in the ratings, but I can tell you one thing for sure: a lot of women watched it.

A Game of Thrones is, of course, the first book in a series of political fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin. The first two novels are some of the most engrossing fiction I’ve ever encountered, and I would never have bothered getting into them if it wasn’t for my wife. She read it shortly after it was initially released back in 1996. She and other fans, also women, formed a discussion group about it. And for a few years, my wife told me I should really read this book. That it wasn’t the typical Robert E. Jordan type of fantasy slog, but a complex political game chock full of layered characters and dense mystery and excitement. She even bought my Dad the book for Christmas one year, and he said it blew him away. So I finally read it, and yet another fan of A Game of Thrones was born.

Now, let me jump back even further in my life. As a kid, I grew up with cartoons and Disney comics and Muppets and Star Wars. The person I shared a lot of these obsessions with most enthusiastically was my mother. Not because I was some shut-in or hid away from other kids, but because my Mom was younger and my enthusiasm transferred easily. My Mom was a huge science fiction fan from her own childhood, when the space program was new and Star Trek was in its first run. In fact, it was her that got me to watch local reruns of Star Trek in the first place, turning me fully into a lifelong science fiction fan. My Mom was the reason we went to see Return of the Jedi 13 times. My Mom was the person who made sure that I watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and grew up curious about the world and the solar system. I can trace a direct line from Cosmos to my love of Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison and every science fiction novel or essay I’ve loved ever since.

And since I’m acknowledging what a science fiction and fantasy geek I am, and what a science fiction and fantasy geek my Mom is, I’d like to point out that it was my Mom that fostered my love of reading from a very early age, taking me to the library every week and helping me read to the point where I had read Charlotte’s Web the summer before first grade.

What I’m trying to say is, without the women in my life, women who love genre fiction, I might not be the same proud geek who takes over this space and whines about the Internet every week.

So it was with boiling anger that I read this sexist piece of trash in the New York Times. I hesitate to call Ginia Bellafante’s post a review of Game of Thrones, because a review would probably have mentioned at least a single actor, character or plot point. Instead, it becomes more of a diatribe based on an incredibly false assumption that women just don’t like fantasy — and, in fact, have to be forced to like it by being lured in with illicit sex.

In her screed, Ms. Bellafante laments that Game of Thrones even exists at all, especially on HBO. She laments that screenwriter David Benioff, who developed the series for HBO, would dare show “Middle Earth proclivities.” She throws her hands in the air and declares that “all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise,” that the sex in Game of Thrones is a patronizing attempt to reach women. And after moaning that it’s too hard to keep track of so many characters, she condescendingly concedes “If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.”

So, then, according to Ms. Bellafante, not only is it undesirable to be a fan of such things as the fantasy genre, but it is clearly impossible for women to be so. We boys, insecure in our childish sexual fantasies and “Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic” (and I’d like to point out, the only Dungeon Master I ever had when I was a kid playing D&D was, yes, a woman), should stick to our basements and our dog-eared Tolkien novels and leave HBO to the grown-ups and the sophisticated women who want to watch Sex and the City.

And I don’t single out that show for any other reason except that Ms. Bellafante herself suggests that the females in the audience would be better off watching reruns of it.

It’s an insulting little piece, not only to all of the women I know and have known who are fans of the genre, fans of fantasy television and specifically fans of Game of Thrones (some of whom were in my home two nights ago watching the premiere episode — a party which was planned by my wife), but even to the men who want to watch the show, relegating us to a ghetto of perverts who can’t just watch “real” TV shows like Mad Men or The Sopranos (to use two more of her examples).

Do I even need to take the time to complain how demonstrably wrong she is about the role of females in Game of Thrones? About how characters like Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark, Catelyn Stark and Cersei Lannister refuse victimhood and turn their hardships into strength? About how, honestly, that is one of the series’ most admirable qualities?

Do I really need to discuss the legions of women I’ve known who adore The Lord of the Rings, who count Invader Zim and Farscape among their favorite TV series, and who grew up wanting to be Wonder Woman? Do I need to recount the conversation that took place in my home between two women who, after watching (and loving) the Game of Thrones premiere, talked about how excited they are for Marvel’s upcoming Thor movie?

Just check all over the Internet. There is no shortage of women coming forward to condemn Ms. Bellafante’s condescending, sexist, anti-genre snobbery. So many that the New York Times seems to have closed comments for that particular “review.”

If, by the word “review,” they mean sweeping generalization about half of the population. Which, apparently, they do.

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

  1. Kyara April 19, 2011
  2. Joelle April 19, 2011
  3. Joelle April 19, 2011
  4. Dar April 20, 2011
  5. Joelle April 21, 2011
  6. James April 22, 2011

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